December 2014

  • Out of the Box Challenge

    December 4, 2014
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    Today was the last Weekly Innovation Challenge of the semester; before we all focus our energy and creativity on finals. Per usual, I did not know what to expect when I arrived at the challenge this week. It turns out that this week’s challenge was designed to put creative brainstorming to the test. The premise of the challenge was that teams of three had ten minutes to brainstorm and write down unique ways a single piece of paper could be used. Then each team would take a turn announcing one of their ideas, which they think no one else would have thought of. If another team had thought of that same idea, then the announcing team would have to give them a token. Each team started with 40 tokens. So, for example, our team wrote that snowflakes could be made from a piece of paper, think the classic holiday craft. No other team thought of that application, so our team did not have to hand over any tokens. This process repeated several times per team. This constituted the first round. The second round was based on the same rules, but instead of thinking of applications of pieces of paper, teams had to draw objects with the shape of a triangle being the main component. For example, we drew a Christmas tree, a slice of pizza, and a pyramid, among others. Again, teams could pick ideas that they thought were unique, but had to give other teams tokens if others had thought of the same idea. The overall strategy was to have a few very unique ideas, so that you could stump other teams. But it was also to create a lengthy list that would include ideas other teams may think of so that you can collect tokens. 

    Our team consisted of students majoring in math, electrical engineering and public health. Whereas some challenges, like building structures, may privilege the experience of engineers, or how challenges that require a pitch may be easier for teams with a business major, this challenge leveled the playing field. The challenge was strictly to think out of the box and get a large output of unique ideas. The ideas did not have to be applied to any problem, or suit the needs of any investor. This setup allowed for relatively free expression of ideas. This was a new experience for me during the weekly innovation challenges. Usually, there is some sort of outside influence or judge that mitigates the creativity for innovation. It was interesting that under these circumstances, it almost seemed harder to think of applications of the piece of paper, or objects with a triangle component. I think this was because the challenge lacked a defined purpose or goal. I think this is an important lesson to keep in mind. Without a goal or purpose, it can be easy to become sidetracked and produce ideas that are irrelevant and counterproductive. 

    While working through the challenge it was also interesting to see the ideas that each team member produced. During the second round, when we had to draw objects with triangles, each of us had a separate piece of paper. Each of us was also working to think outside of the box for shapes and figures to make. However, the math major was drawing images of less than and greater than signs and Pascal’s triangle. The electrical engineer had a drawing of a triangular cell tower. While these objects were certainly unique to me, as the public health major, they were not necessarily unique and out of the box for the individuals who constructed them. This gave me some insight into the idea and challenge of “thinking outside of the box.” I think we need an outside perspective to let us know what truly is outside of the box. It can be easy to have thought processes that are linked by common themes or ideas that we encounter repeatedly, like mathematics, or electrical engineering. However, sometimes it is hard to see the nature of the box that we are stuck in. It could be our major, it could be our background, it could be our aspirations, and it could be a wide range of contexts. So, similar to how it is useful to define goals of a project, it is also beneficial to define, or at least outline, the box of which you are trying to step out of. This way you can have a gauge for creativity. Being innovative and thinking outside of the box does not mean thinking of completely random ideas. There must be a purpose to the brainstorming and the box construct that is being avoided. Without being cognizant of these two factors, innovation can seem like a game of chance and luck, when it, in fact, is composed of careful thought 

    Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester

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